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Since I first became interested in heavy metal in my teen years, I've had the interesting experience of watching certain kinds of music slowly grow on me while some others slowly get shrugged off. In those days, when I was stuck listening to the generic metal that I could find on the shelves at my local Best Buy, I thought that Metallica was the pinnacle of human ingenuity, that Iron Maiden was absurd and was nothing more than opera tracked over hard rock, and that Pantera was the heaviest and nastiest-sounding band of all time. Needless to say, to even be at the point of having an informed opinion of an album such as Nespithe, I have come a long way.
But all that aside, what's the purpose of this little narrative? It's to illustrate a point - to draw a parallel between my discovery of heavy metal and my discovery of this album. The point is to emphasize the mindset that is needed to appreciate a work as bizarre as this. You see, when one is stuck in that Metallica-based frame of mind, it's difficult to appreciate death metal (or black metal, or grindcore, etc...) as music. In all these years of listening to metal, death metal was the genre that took the longest for me to come to enjoy. The reason for this, I think, was that the bands and the albums that were the most readily accessible were also some of the most lackluster. Sure, Cannibal Corpse and Deicide are both exercises in brutality and aggression, but I find it difficult to really be engaged by that style of music. What it would ultimately take for me to garner an interest in death metal was to see the genre from an entirely different perspective.
This work by Demilich seems to play out like the answer key to a sheet of questions, all of those questions asking something akin to "what if we didn't do X?" What if we were heavy without being overly aggressive? What if we played death metal without resorting to brutality? What if we got a schizophrenic to write our lyrics and song titles? What if we had our vocalist belch his parts? ...and so on and so forth. The point is that the resulting album sounds starkly different from the prototypical death metal LP of the day.
Nespithe is mostly moderately-paced, bass-heavy, and freaky. It's sort of like the death metal answer to psychedelic rock. The vocals are years ahead of their time, predating the unending BREEEEEE of brutal death metal and goregrind by the better part of a decade, yet actually remaining (somewhat) intelligible. The tracking for the instruments is also unusual for the time period, with separate guitar and bass tracks playing from individual speakers. The percussion and the vocals are very subdued compared to the guitar and bass. The guitar is heavily downtuned, producing a tone that sounds like a predecessor to sludge metal.
The result of all this odd stuff is a bizarre listening experience which rumbles in the ears instead of roaring, and which confuses instead of terrifying. Nespithe is so drastically different from the common death metal of 1993 that it boggles the mind. The techniques which were the daily bread of the genre's musicians of the day are almost nowhere to be found on this album. The guitars aren't constantly playing tremolo lines. The drums aren't constantly churning out rapid-fire blast beats. In fact, even the double-bass is used somewhat sparingly. The vocals are not barked or roared or growled. They're gurgled.
This album very well may be as far away as one can get from the conventions of death metal and still be called death metal. It's a genre-warping, mind-bending experience. If you can find it in you to sit through it and appreciate its uniqueness, you will be greatly rewarded. It's really a shame that Demilich is no longer around to make more crazy music like this, but then again, that would spoil the novelty of this album, wouldn't it?